Washington State Supreme Court To Hear Arguments Today in Historic Lawsuit Seeking Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples

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"Our clients and same-sex couples throughout Washington have waited a long time for this day. Lesbian and gay couples need the protections only marriage provides, and that's what we're asking for today."
March 8, 2005

(Olympia, Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2005) — The Washington Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center seeking full marriage for same-sex couples statewide.


“Our clients and same-sex couples throughout Washington have waited a long time for this day,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office. “Lesbian and gay couples need the protections only marriage provides, and that’s what we’re asking for today. This court has a solid track record of treating same-sex couples equally. A ruling in favor of our clients would be in line with the Washington Constitution and in line with recent rulings from this court.” Pizer also played a key role in two major victories for same-sex couples at the Washington Supreme Court in the last four years.


Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed the lawsuit exactly one year ago today, on behalf of several same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King County. The case argues that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the Washington Constitution’s guarantees of liberty, equality and privacy.


“The Washington Constitution promises freedom to everyone in the state, regardless of sexual orientation, but that promise won’t be real until same-sex couples are allowed to marry,” Pizer said. “As long as same-sex couples cannot marry, we are not being treated equally under the law – and we’re asking the Washington Supreme Court to fix that.”


In a historic ruling in the case in August 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing said that the Washington State Constitution guarantees basic rights to lesbian and gay people – and that those rights are violated by a state law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying. The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples in the case must be given marriage licenses. One month later, a court in Thurston County ruled similarly. Both decisions were appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments in both cases today.


Because the cases are based entirely on the Washington Constitution, they will not go beyond the state’s Supreme Court. Today’s oral arguments mark the first time any state high court has heard a case seeking marriage for same-sex couples since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in that state.


In addition to this case in Washington, Lambda Legal is also currently litigating marriage cases in New Jersey, New York and California. (Lambda Legal is working on the California case with the ACLU, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California.) Last month, a New York trial court judge ruled in Lambda Legal’s case that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry under that state’s Constitution; the city has asked the state’s highest court to take the case directly. Rulings are pending from a middle-level state appeals court in the New Jersey case and from the trial court in the California case.


The plaintiff couples in this case include: Heather Andersen and Leslie Christian, both successful businesswomen, who have been together for 14 years; Johanna Bender and Sherri Kokx, who have been together for seven years and are the parents of three-year-old Zachary and three-month-old Quintin; Janet Helson and Betty Lundquist, who have been together for 12 years and have two children, Tyler, 8, and Zora, 2; Peter Ilgenfritz and David Shull, who have been together for nearly 20 years, and were the first same-sex couple to be married in a religious ceremony at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Chicago; David and Michael Serkin-Poole, who have been together for 23 years and care for their three adult children, all of whom have disabilities; Vegavahini Subramaniam and Vaijayanthimala Nagarajan, who have been together for six years and whose families come from the same community in South India, but who grew up in the United States and met in Washington; Elizabeth Reis and Barbara Steele, who have been in a committed relationship for over 26 years and celebrated their 20th anniversary with a ceremony they shared with 175 friends and family; and Michelle Esguerra and Boo Torres de Esguerra who have been together for five years and are both qualified apprentice electricians.


Jennifer C. Pizer and Jamie Pedersen, member of Lambda Legal’s Board of Directors and an attorney at the Seattle law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis, are Lambda Legal’s lead attorneys on the case, Andersen, et. al. v. Sims, et. al. Co-counsel include Patricia Novotny, Lisa Stone and Nancy Sapiro of the Northwest Women’s Law Center, and Bradley Bagshaw and Jennifer Divine, of the Seattle law firm Helsell Fetterman LLP.


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Contact: Lisa Hardaway in Olympia, 402-369-2104; or Eric Ferrero, 212-809-8585 x 227


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

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